I had always thought that summer time would bring lots of activity and adventures, keeping children active and healthy. Research, however, has shown a completely different picture. Now, in 2020, this is an even more important issue since kids have been out of school since early spring.
During the school year children have structure. This structure keep children engaged in activity, mental and physical, which has shown to prevent weight gain and maintain physical fitness. During summer, many children are at home without structured learning or play leading to weight gain and loss of physical fitness.
This problem is compounded by income level. Many middle and upper income level families are able to afford summer school or summer camps which are about 8-10 weeks long. They can cost $2500-$3000, which for a lower income family can be out of reach.
School programs also provide food which can be of a better nutrient profile than what is available at home. Some homes may not have caregivers during the day. This can leave children to make do with whatever ready made food is around them, which will usually be nutritionally deficient. This can set the stage for many of the chronic diseases that we as adults face today, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Close the “health gap”, which leads to an increased BMI in children of lower income households vs higher income households. It is proposed that having structured days filled with favorable activities can mitigate an increasing BMI and other unhealthy behaviors.
One solution could be structured summer programs like summer camps. Full day camps can provide food and snacks as well. These programs should be subsidized for our most vulnerable populations so that all children can have access to such resources. Another option could be to make school year round. This would mean shorter but more frequent breaks during the year, still totaling 180 instructional days. This option is a more difficult one as it would take major changes in the infrastructure of the school year from it’s current state….or would it?
To make matters worse, in the US we are facing an upturn of the global pandemic with more and more cases of COVID-19 emerging every day. The likelihood of school returning to normal is bleak at best. Having been on many school district focus calls, I see that there is no straightforward choice. We may need to turn to creative methods to keep our children safe yet productive. Providing them a structured setting, be it remote or in person will be an important step to keep them physically and emotionally healthy.
Here are some links for information and ideas for parents:
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